Award-winning investigative journalist and CNN host Lisa Ling tackles a history of anti-Asian rhetoric in the U.S. while adding a personal lens on the hate she and her children have experienced during the pandemic in the first episode of the newest season of her docuseries, “This Is Life With Lisa Ling.”
Titled “The Legacy of Vincent Chin,” the episode opens on the surge of violence hitting the Asian American community since the start of the pandemic in March 2020 and the similarities it shares to the historic murder.
In 1982, 27-year-old Vincent Chin died on the night of his bachelor party at the hands of disgruntled autoworkers who blamed him for their lost jobs. At the time, Japanese imported cars were replacing American-made ones, causing mass layoffs during Detroit’s economic downturn and sparking anti-Japanese sentiment. Chin, a Chinese American man, was hunted down and bludgeoned with a baseball bat by killers who pleaded guilty, received a fine of $3,000 and no jail time. Activists like Helen Zia launched the first-ever Asian American civil rights case, which rallied people of all ethnicities to champion change.
The injustice of Chin’s murder caused a nationwide upset and rise in protests that mirror the many incidents to come out of COVID-19 hate and scapegoating placed on Asian Americans, Ling said.
A montage of anti-Asian assaults flits between CNN newscasters who voice over brutal robberies, women and elderly getting slammed to the ground, Georgia police hovering the vicinity of the Atlanta spa shootings, former president Trump using the terms “Kung Flu” and “China virus” to a cheering crowd and, finally, Ling as she stands defiantly with a microphone in hand in the center of a Los Angeles Stop Asian Hate rally.
CNN’s Lisa Ling calls for solidarity btw communities of color and asks crowd to submit to an exercise where they tell someone next to them: “I will protect you. Please protect me.”
“There are some street vendors who are here…Please say to them, ‘I will protect you.’” pic.twitter.com/LyxwdqXrTw
— Josie Huang (@josie_huang) March 27, 2021
The veteran journalist would lay restless at night after being bombarded with reports of yet another Asian person getting attacked. It was then that she knew she couldn’t stay still. Ling and Daniel Dae Kim, among many other Asian leaders, continue to publicly speak out against the attacks and have become familiar faces within the movement.
“What good is a platform if it’s not used for good and to try to condemn the violence against our most vulnerable?” she told NextShark. “It also gave us an opportunity to speak out about the pattern of scapegoating of Asians that has spanned more than a decade. The stories of Asian Americans have gone untold for too long.”
But speaking out hasn’t come without its costs. When Ling appears on shows, she physically shakes under the table every time she is called to relay an incident, because of the possibility that it could have been her own elderly relatives in the victim’s place.
Contrary to how Ling usually opens an episode of her docuseries, this first episode touches a painfully personal note for the CNN host, who has also been on the receiving end of anti-Asian harassment and hate since the beginning of the pandemic.
Days after Trump called COVID-19 “China virus,” Ling posted compilations to her social media pages of people accusing her and other Chinese people of spreading the virus. But what made the messages even more egregious was that they also wished for the harm and deaths of her two daughters.
— lisaling (@lisaling) March 27, 2020
Ling had a feeling that Trump’s characterization of the virus would soon incite violence toward Asians. Directly after, she appeared on “The View” to denounce it, and immediately noticed the swell of reports “on NextShark and other social media outlets.”
“Mainstream media wasn’t covering it at the time,” she said.
This week a Thai American was MURDERED, a Viet grandmother was assaulted & a Fillipino American was slashed across the face. Mainstream media does not spotlight our stories. Racism Kills. @CNN @MSNBC @maddowshow @andersoncooper cover us! We are dying to be heard. #justiceforvicha pic.twitter.com/P4OHZuwZjU
— Amanda 🚀 (@nguyen_amanda) February 6, 2021
Then the incidents took an even worse turn when unprovoked assaults killed victims. The widely-covered murder of 84-year-old Vicha Ratanapakdee, who died after being forcibly shoved to the pavement, struck a visceral nerve within the journalist and others to use their voices “more loudly and vociferously.”
Ling wants viewers to take action.
“Don’t be a bystander,” she said in reference to cases like Vilma Kari, the 65-year-old Filipina American who was subjected to anti-Asian remarks and stomped on the sidewalk outside a New York City apartment building while security personnel watched and closed the door on her. And 61-year-old Noel Quintana who was slashed in the face with a box cutter while no one helped.
NYPD says 65-year-old Asian American woman was walking to church this morning when suspect assaulted her and said “f*** you, you don’t belong here.” Happened in front of 360 W. 43rd St. 11:40am. Sources say building security guard not only failed to render her aid… 1/2 pic.twitter.com/ZLtQEHHJci
— CeFaan Kim (@CeFaanKim) March 30, 2021
“When you see harassment or abuse happen, please don’t just look away,” she added. “And please donate to the victims’ funds and organizations that are working to combat hate of all people.”
The journalist also acknowledged that what defines a hate crime and what charges an attacker will end up getting are not always clear-cut, such as when Steven Jenkins, a 39-year-old mentally ill and homeless man punched 75-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie in March. Jenkins was represented by Taiwan-born San Francisco-based public defender Eric McBurney, who claimed the former’s “mind is broken” and that the attack wasn’t racially motivated.
75-year-old Xiao Zhen Xie—who fought back against her attacker by hitting him with a board—wants to donate nearly $1 million raised for her medical expenses to help fight racism.
“She insists on making this decision, saying this issue is bigger than her.”https://t.co/QU0ayZ3DKh
— NPR (@NPR) March 24, 2021
“We need to figure out a way to combine a punitive approach with community service and tolerance training,” she said. “There are deep-rooted issues at play that, I think, can be directly linked to a lack of understanding of our community.”
I just can’t win. pic.twitter.com/CKVAsKDie9
— lisaling (@lisaling) April 2, 2020
It’s been over a year and a half since Ling revealed the derogatory messages she received when the pandemic first entered full swing. While the microaggressions haven’t stopped, she noted an instance of change with one of her daughter’s friends.
“A couple of months ago, a boy in my 8-year-old daughter’s school called her ‘ching chong,’” she said. “Without missing a beat, her best friend exclaimed, ‘I will not be a bystander!’ and she proceeded to tell a teacher.”
These little changes give Ling hope for the Asian community moving forward. The continued fight for “visibility and inclusion in the fabric of American society” is a part of Vincent Chin’s legacy and how Asians will keep persevering despite the hate.
“I am so grateful for the community that rose up in the wake of the hostilities,” Ling said. “We are writing a new chapter of Asian American history, and it’s one in which we stood up and refused to be silent anymore.”
“This Is Life With Lisa Ling” is available to stream on YouTube, HBO Max, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Sling TV, Google Play, Apple TV and CNNgo.
Featured Image via “This Is Life With Lisa Ling”